God is God in Life and Death

Below is the artwork, poem, and an excerpt from this morning’s Lent Project devotional. I found this to be quite meaningful.

“Dreams and Nightmares”
by Walter Bruggemann

Last night as I lay sleeping,
   I had a dream so fair . . .
   I dreamed of the Holy City, well ordered and just.
   I dreamed of a garden of paradise,
     well-being all around and a good water supply.
   I dreamed of disarmament and forgiveness,
     and caring embrace for all those in need.
   I dreamed of a coming time when death is no more.

Last night as I lay sleeping . . .
   I had a nightmare of sins unforgiven.
   I had a nightmare of land mines still exploding
     and maimed children.
   I had a nightmare of the poor left unloved,
     of the homeless left unnoticed,
     of the dead left ungrieved.
   I had a nightmare of quarrels and rages
     and wars great and small.

When I awoke, I found you still to be God,
   presiding over the day and night
     with serene sovereignty,
   for dark and light are both alike to you.

At the break of day we submit to you
     our best dreams
     and our worst nightmares,
   asking that your healing mercy should override threats,
     that your goodness will make our
       nightmares less toxic
       and our dreams more real.

Thank you for visiting us with newness
       that overrides what is old and deathly among us.
Come among us this day; dream us toward
       health and peace,
we pray in the real name of Jesus
       who exposes our fantasies.

How can the dark and light be both alike?

In Walter Brueggemann’s poem, he writes about a dream and a nightmare: a dream of a Holy City, and a well-ordered garden paradise; a nightmare of landmines exploding, and the dead left ungrieved.

Then the third stanza reads: 
   When I awoke, I found you still to be God,
   presiding over the day and night
   with serene sovereignty,
   for dark and light are both alike to you.    

Ilya Glasunov’s painting asks me to look at death and life at the same time. First, I am compelled by the gaze of the dying man, his eyes so tired. The white beard framing his face, his cheekbones more pronounced than they used to be. The worn, aged, and weak hand atop the blanket. On the table, a petal of the purple flower has fallen. Then, I follow the gaze of the young woman, her eyes looking out the window. The auburn hair framing her face, as she sits with her head poised. The delicate hand atop a book or journal. Is this her father? Birds are flying. Clouds are in the sky. There is the strip of orange at the center of the painting that aligns with the head of the man and the hand of the woman. At first glance, this seems like simply the horizon line, but with a closer look, it alludes to a city, perhaps a Holy City. 

Part of the reason this painting resonates so much with me is because it feels familiar. It is approaching one year since the death of my own Dad. Like Mary and Martha wanted their brother to be healed, I wanted my Dad to be healed. This year has asked me to look at death and life at the same time. Grief, sadness, longing, and also feeling God encourage me to live fully and look forward with hope. 

Kari Dunham, M.F.A.
Adjunct Professor of Art
Biola University

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